Can American cities ever hope to be the platform where the future plays out again? This will never be our fate as long as all eyes turn to Washington. America is not one big city. Local initiative by people who own the local economy is the only solution. Individuals are much better at detecting market opportunity than government. In fact, America’s greatest strength has been its capacity to reinvent our economy by allowing entrepreneurs to disturb incumbent industries and in the course of this process make cities themselves more competitive.
Happily, because America still has states that are ready to turn a blind eye towards Washington there is hope that some American cities will be global players in the future. In the face of the chronic slow growth/near recession conditions that Washington appears powerless to solve, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida and Tennessee have encouraged local economies by making policy much more conducive to business. The cities in these states, with their concentration of talent and workers, are certain to benefit. When states eliminate income taxes, lower regulatory burdens, and municipalities manage themselves along fiscally conservative principals, businesses intent on growing will come and, importantly, so will the innovators and entrepreneurs who will make the next generation of businesses.
If any American cities are likely to be included on a list of world beating places in fifty years it is likely that Austin will be first among them. Perhaps because they are Texans, its elite has never seen Washington as the place where the future can be seen or certainly not made. Austin is a hotbed of innovation and business creation. Fueled by a great university and benefiting from a culture that is happy to show anyone how to get things done, its growth over the last two decades has been remarkable. Its governor taunts California on the radio! But, beware, Austin, until Washington sees that our economy is composed by people working in it, close to it, and owning it, all of which happens in cities just like yours, don’t expect anyone will mistake you for Dubai in fifty years.